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Love Always Comes As A Surprise

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“I just don’t get it.”

Marty looked over to his best friend sat at one of the tables close to the counter in the coffee shop they worked at. He rolled his eyes with a small grin as he wiped over the counter with a damp cloth.

“Are you still complainin’?” The zebra questioned as he walked around the counter towards the table Alex was sat at, spraying it with disinfectant and wiping it down with the same cloth. Alex pouted with his head in his hands, looking at Marty.

“I just don’t get why I haven’t received any Valentine’s gifts this year!” The lion exclaimed, moving his cup of coffee so Marty could wipe the table underneath it. “I mean, usually the odd customer would gift me with a rose, or would buy me a cup of coffee on them, but… nothing? Nothing at all?!”

Alex stood up suddenly, jolting the table Marty was leaning over to clean, making the zebra fall back with a yelp. Marty quickly grabbed hold of the table and steadied it, frowning at Alex and shaking his head with an exasperated sigh.

“It’s bad enough that I don’t have a date on Valentine’s Day,” Alex continued, leaning his back on the counter with his arms folded across his chest, “but to receive little to no attention at all? I thought the people liked me!”

Marty couldn’t help but laugh lightly at the lion’s frustration. “I think you’re forgettin’ that we work in a coffee shop, Ally-Al. We’re not exactly world famous performers. Our customers aren’t here for you.” The zebra handed his friend the disinfectant spray and wipe and put an arm around his waist, pushing him into the direction of another table that needed to be cleaned. “They’re here for our coffee.”

Rolling his eyes, Alex sprayed the table and wiped it down, barely putting any effort into it. “I’m unappreciated in my time.”

Silence fell over the coffee shop as Alex continued to wipe down the tables as Marty restocked the small cake stall that sat on the counter. Eventually, Alex grew sick of wiping down the tables and walked over to where the cake stall was. He stole one of the cupcakes and bit into it, and Marty raised an eyebrow at him with a grin.

“Is that good enough for you, your Highness?” Marty asked the lion, leaning over the counter with his arms folded.

Alex finished the cupcake and stared down at the cupcake wrapper in his hands, which was decorated in tiny little hearts. “It’s bittersweet…”

The zebra shook his head with a laugh. “So dramatic.”

Alex placed his hands on the counter and then pushed himself up so he was sat on it. Marty made himself and Alex another cup of coffee and then walked around the counter to give Alex his. Marty turned the radio on as they chatted absentmindedly, and the two of them ended up sitting together at the table Alex was sat on before.

“...And this one is for all you lovebirds out there today.” The radio presenter stated, and, sure enough, a cheesy, romantic song began to play. Alex threw his head back and groaned in despair.

“Okay. That’s it.” Marty said, slamming his hand down on the table. He didn’t do it with much force, but it was enough to make Alex jump. He raised an eyebrow as Marty took both their cups away and took off his apron. The zebra grabbed his hoodie and threw Alex’s jacket towards him.

“What are you doing?” Alex asked, standing up.

“You were upset about not having a Valentine’s date, right?” Marty said, pulling his hoodie over him. “Well, get your coat on. We’re goin’ on a date.”

Alex blinked in surprise and stammered over his words slightly, feeling quite flustered at Marty’s sudden forwardness. Sure, he was complaining about not having someone to spend Valentine’s Day with, but he had never considered going on a date with his best friend. Marty opened the door to the coffee shop and held it open.

“I’m waitin’.” He said with a grin, his arms folded over his chest. Alex raised his eyebrow and grinned back at Marty, shaking his head slightly as he put on his jacket. He walked out of the shop and Marty locked the door behind them both.

Marty held his arm out for Alex to take. Alex shot a questioning glance up at Marty, to which he responded with a nod towards his arm. The lion looped his arm around Marty’s and they began walking towards a busier part of the city.

“I’ll bite. Where are we headed?” Alex questioned. Marty looked down at him and grinned.

“Hmm…” He thought for a moment. “How does pizza and a movie sound?”

Alex couldn’t help but smile at the thought of his little makeshift date with his best friend. “Aw, is that it? No romantic picnic in Central Park while a band plays for us in the background?” He teased with a raised eyebrow.

“Oh, I’m sorry, sweetheart, but with how busy I’ve been this week, working to put food on the table and all that meaningless stuff, I just haven’t had the time to think ahead.” Marty replied snarkily, smirking down at him. Alex leaned into his friend with a laugh, quite aware at how bizarrely natural it felt to be called a pet name by him, albeit jokingly, and how natural it felt to be walking arm in arm with him down the street.

“Fine,” the lion said with a sigh, then he grinned, “I guess pizza and a movie will do.”

Eventually, Marty led the two of them to a pizza place they used to come to a lot as teenagers with Melman and Gloria. It had been years since Alex had stepped foot into the pizzeria, and the familiar setting brought with it a sense of nostalgia. He couldn’t help but feel a little fuzzy that the place they often occupied as teens was where Marty had decided to bring him for their impromptu date, but he didn’t think too much on it.

“Oh, hey! They have a two for one couples special on tonight.” Marty stated as they sat down at a table and looked at the menu. “Good thing we’re a couple tonight, huh?” He said with a grin and a wink. Alex felt a blush rising in his cheeks, and he shook his head with a laugh.

“Pretending to be a couple to get a free pizza sounds a tad cliché.” Alex added.

“Al, you’re not about to turn down a free pizza, are you?” Marty asked with wide eyes, placing his hand over his chest in feign surprise. Alex rolled his eyes and smiled.

“I can’t believe you would even think that I’d ever turn down free food!” He said, placing a hand over his own chest the same way Marty did. The two of them laughed at each other, and the waiter came over with his notepad and pen, ready to take their order.

“A very happy couple, I see!” The waiter said with a wide smile on his face. He was quite a short but extremely jolly baboon. Marty and Alex exchanged glances and somewhat awkward smiles with each other before looking back at the baboon.

“Oh, we’re the happiest of couples.” Alex was quick to say, and Marty looked at him and grinned.

“Celebrating Valentine’s?” The baboon asked them, his sharp-toothed smile stretched across his face.

“We sure are. Aren’t we, babe?” Marty said to Alex, reaching out his hand across the table. Alex’s heart did some sort of flip as his best friend called him ‘babe’, and he reached to take Marty’s hand into his.

“Absolutely, honey.” Alex replied, smiling at Marty before looking back at the baboon. “We’d like the two for one couples special, please.”

The waiter nodded happily. “Of course, of course! Quite the popular choice amongst our guests tonight!” He clicked his pen, ready to jot down their orders. “What pizzas would you two like?”

“Well, I’ll have a vegetarian pizza, and for my boyfriend over there... a simple margherita pizza, right?” Marty said, smiling.

Alex was a little shocked at how quick Marty was to call him his boyfriend, but he reminded himself that it was just an act so they could get one pizza for free. He cleared his throat, attempting to hide his bashfulness. “Uh, yep! One margherita pizza for me, please.”

The baboon wrote down their orders and smiled at them, telling them that their pizzas wouldn’t be too long. Once the baboon was gone, Marty and Alex looked at each other and started laughing.

“You’re way too good at that. I thought I was the actor in this friendship.” Alex chuckled.

“Oh, you underestimate me, Ally-Al. You weren’t the only one who took drama in high school.” Marty replied, taking a sip of the water that was placed on the table for them.

The two chatted about old times they’d had at the pizzeria they were in when they were younger, making each other laugh at the embarrassing teenage memories they were bringing up. Around twenty minutes later, their waiter returned with their pizzas. He hoped that they enjoyed their pizzas, and if there was anything else he could get for them, that they should let him know and it wouldn’t be a problem.

Marty and Alex tucked into their pizzas, and they remembered why this was their local hangout as teenagers--the pizza was just so good!

“You wanna try mine?” Marty asked Alex, lifting up a slice.

“Sure.” Alex grinned. He went to take the slice from Marty, but Marty hesitated.

“What’s that thing that all unbearably, disgustingly cute couples do? Don’t they feed each other?” Marty couldn’t help but let out a laugh.

“I’m not letting you feed me.” Alex said, raising an eyebrow with a grin.

“Aw, come on…” Marty neared the slice of pizza near Alex’s mouth. Alex rolled his eyes and took a bite of the pizza that was in Marty’s hands.

“Hm, not bad. Too many veggies on it for me, though.” The lion stated. He lifted up a slice of his own pizza and gestured it towards Marty. “My turn.”

Marty opened his mouth to take a bite, but wasn’t expecting Alex to shove the full thing in his mouth without warning. With a cough and a splutter, Marty pushed Alex playfully through laughter, and Alex was on the brink of tears due to how hard he was laughing at Marty’s reaction.

“You’re such a dick, man!” Marty said, though he couldn’t help but laugh at what Alex had just done. Alex managed to compose himself, wiping a tear from his eye.

“Yeah, but it’s funny. You can’t deny that I’m hilarious.” Alex said, puffing his chest out slightly with pride.

“Oh, yeah…” The zebra lifted up another slice, grinning mischievously at the lion. “Let’s see how funny you find it when the cheese from this pizza gets all matted in your mane!”

“Marty, no!” Alex yelled, giggling as Marty grabbed him around the waist to keep him from moving, dangling the pizza slice above his head. “Please! I can’t go to a movie with cheese in my hair!”

Marty let the melted cheese dangle over Alex’s head for a brief moment, then bit into the pizza slice instead. “You’re right. I can’t have my date lookin’ like a mess.”

Alex breathed a sigh of relief, looking at Marty with a small grin. “Okay. I’m all pizza’d out, now.”

“I think I am, too, since you just tried to murder me with yours.” Marty replied. Alex let out a snort of laughter, recalling the moment from a few minutes ago.

They called over the waiter and insisted on the bill. The waiter quickly brought the bill over, and Marty and Alex split it between them. They then walked over to the door, and were surprised when the baboon stopped them.

“Just one thing before you leave!” He said with a smile, then presented them with a plastic rose. “I hope the two of you have a wonderful night. You seem as if you’re made for each other.”

The two friends exchanged glances with each other, and smiled warmly, before turning back to the baboon. Marty took the rose that the waiter had presented to them, and then gave it to Alex, who couldn’t stop himself from smiling even if he tried.

“You ain’t wrong about that.” Marty said in response to the baboon. They said their farewells and then left the pizzeria.

The two of them walked in the direction of the movie theatre, but this time they weren’t just arm in arm--they were hand in hand. And it didn’t feel awkward or weird. It just felt… natural. It felt nice.
Once they were in the movie theatre, they had a look at the listings. It was mainly all romantic comedies. Marty looked at Alex, who shrugged.

“What’s Valentine’s Day without a cheesy romcom?” The lion grinned. Marty grinned back and they went to buy tickets for one of the romantic comedies that was listed. They, of course, bought popcorn, too, as you can’t watch a movie without popcorn.

They both talked all the way through the ads that came on before the movie, poking fun at them and just plain giggling to themselves about nothing. Once the movie came on, they were silent for around half an hour of it, up until Marty said something about the movie that made Alex splutter and burst into a fit of laughter, earning them quite a few ‘shushes’ from the rest of the audience. They couldn’t help but make fun of the movie’s general cheesiness and overall predictable plot, where the two childhood best friends grew up and realised that they were in love with each other the whole time. It wasn’t until the movie was nearing its end that Alex and Marty both began to feel some sort of tension between them as the movie’s main couple shared a kiss. The two of them shared a look with one another, but Alex quickly reverted his eyes back to the screen. He went to take some more popcorn from the bucket, only for his hand to meet Marty’s hand as the zebra was also about to take some popcorn. They both looked at each other once more, and started to laugh again. Alex rested his head on Marty’s shoulder for a moment, watching the very last scene of the movie, where the two best-friends-that-had-fallen-in-love walked off into the sunset together, presumably to enjoy their happily ever after.

After the movie was over, the two friends made their way out of the movie theatre.

“What a cheesefest.” Alex said, chuckling.

“Man, don’t try and cover it up. I know you have a collection of cheesy romcoms just like that at your place.” Marty said playfully with a smirk, earning up a gentle elbow in the ribs.

As they walked outside, they were met with a cold chill, and Alex shivered, rubbing his arms. Marty quickly realised Alex was cold and wrapped his arm around the lion’s shoulders in an attempt to warm him up. Alex quickly leaned in to the zebra, and they began walking together, with Marty’s arm still around the lion’s shoulders as they did so.

“D’you want me to walk you back to your apartment?” Marty asked Alex. The lion was silent for a moment before answering.

“It’s funny. I kind of don’t want this date to end.” He admitted, smiling sheepishly up at his friend. Marty’s heart melted a tiny bit at that, and he smiled back.

“Yeah. Me either.”

They headed towards a busier part of the city, and music could be heard. There were a couple of street performers on the side of the road: one of them was strumming a guitar and singing, while another was hitting an upside down bucket with a pair of drumsticks. They had gathered quite the crowd, and a few couples were dancing to the music they were playing. Marty and Alex stopped to listen to the music, and Alex looked up at Marty with a smile. He grabbed his friend’s hands with his own and span him around, and Marty laughed. He soon followed Alex’s lead and pulled him closer to himself so that their chests were touching. His arm was around Alex’s waist and he held one of Alex’s hands in his own, as the lion’s other hand rested on Marty’s shoulder. The two danced with each other just as the other couples were doing, and, once again, it felt… so bizarrely natural.

Marty and Alex were both talented dancers, and so gained quite a bit of attention from the other couples that were dancing. They seemed to be so in sync with one another, and the two could feel it between them.

As the song came to a close, Marty instinctively dipped Alex with a grin. Alex looked up at Marty, somewhat breathless, and grinned back. The lion reached into his pocket and pulled out the rose that had been gifted to them both by the baboon, and he placed it in his mouth, biting down on it with his teeth. He wiggled his eyebrows at Marty, and the zebra rolled his eyes, though the smile remained on his face. He took the rose out of Alex’s mouth with his hand, and he stared down at his friend with warm, loving eyes. Marty was still dipping Alex, and Alex had his arms wrapped around Marty’s neck.

“C’mere.” Marty murmured with a smile, before leaning in and kissing Alex on the lips. Alex reciprocated straight away, bringing Marty closer to him as they kissed. The zebra stood up so that he was no longer dipping Alex, and they kissed each other tenderly for a few moments, before sharing a tight embrace with each other.

After a few moments of hugging each other, they parted, holding each other’s hands and smiling at each other.

“How was that date for ya, Ally-Al?” Marty grinned, holding his hand as they began to make their way back home. Luckily for them, their apartments were within a block of each other, so they could walk home together.

“Eh… It was okay, I guess.” Alex teased, smirking.

“Just ‘okay’?” Marty raised an eyebrow at him, pulling the lion close to him once again. “Don’t be playin’ with me. I go out of my way to take you for pizza and to a movie, put my heart and soul into making you laugh, and all I get is ‘okay’?”

Alex couldn’t help but giggle and he rested his hands on either of Marty’s shoulders, looking up at him. “Well, maybe if I could get another kiss, this date might at least make it into my top three.”

Marty shook his head with a smile at Alex, then brought him closer to him, kissing him gently. Alex couldn’t quite believe what was happening between them tonight, but he couldn’t be more thankful for it. The kiss was short but sweet, and Marty looked at Alex with a questioning look.

“So…?” The zebra asked with raised eyebrows. Alex thought for a moment or two before grinning.

“Hmm…” He pressed a finger to his chin in thought, then smiled back at Marty. He stole one more tender kiss from him. “Okay. I’ve reached my decision.”

“And?” Marty laughed lightly at the lion’s playful antics.

Alex grinned and held Marty’s hand with his own.

“Best date ever.”